Impact of Current Law on Those With Mental Illness Discussed in Red Flag Bill Hearing

Impact of Current Law on Those With Mental Illness Discussed in Red Flag Bill Hearing
The Capitol building in Augusta, Maine, on July 29, 2023. (Richard Moore/The Epoch Times)
Michael Clements

Mental illness and individual rights were part of the discussion of a proposed Emergency Response Protection Order law during an hours-long public hearing on April 5 in the Maine State Capitol.

Hundreds of people submitted written statements both for and against the proposed law. Dozens more made the trek to Room 438 in the Maine State House to address the Judiciary Committee.

Maine House Speaker Rachel Talbot Ross (D-Portland) is the sponsor for LB2283, the “Crisis Intervention Order Act.” At the hearing, she said she had been approached about amending the bill to include dangerous weapons other than firearms.

Ms. Ross said her bill, LB2283, isn’t meant to abolish Maine’s “Yellow Flag” law, which has been in place since 2019. She said the new law addresses what some consider inadequacies in the existing law.

Detractors of the current law say it is difficult for law enforcement to enforce and doesn’t allow family members to get help when someone is presenting a danger to themselves, their family, or their community.

While many supporters of the red flag law claim Maine’s current law requires law enforcement to diagnose mental illness, the words diagnose and illness are not found in the statute. According to the law, police must have the person evaluated by a “medical practitioner.”

The law states, “The medical practitioner ... shall assess whether the person presents a likelihood of foreseeable harm.”

Once that determination is made, law enforcement can petition a court to restrict the person’s ability to possess or access guns. The law doesn’t specify who can call law enforcement.

The proposed law would allow “a family or household member, a law enforcement agency or a law enforcement officer” to file a petition for a crisis intervention order without police involvement.

If the order is granted, the person subject to it will be prohibited from possessing or obtaining firearms. The law calls for a hearing in which the subject would answer any allegations made against him.

The law would also allow emergency orders in which a judge could act without notifying the person.

While the law requires the petitioner to file a sworn affidavit with the court, an emergency order allows filing the affidavit by telephone or email.

Nicole Palmer, executive director of the Main Gun Safety Coalition, calls the bill a “true ERPO bill,” which refers to an Extreme Risk Protection Order. She told the hearing that 1,000 people had demonstrated at the Maine State Capitol last January demanding the bill, and at least 100 more were willing to testify at the hearing in support of the legislation.

“Maine families need a true ERPO,” she said.

Betsy Healy of Peaks Island said the state’s “Yellow Flag Law” is flawed in part because it requires a mental health evaluation before a person’s access to firearms is restricted. She and other bill supporters say the current law is too narrow in requiring a diagnosis of mental illness before a person’s right to access guns is restricted.

President Joe Biden and First Lady Jill Biden walk with Maine Gov. Janet Mills in Lewiston, Maine, on Nov. 3, 2023, following a mass shooting on Oct. 25. (Mandel Ngan/AFP via Getty Images)
President Joe Biden and First Lady Jill Biden walk with Maine Gov. Janet Mills in Lewiston, Maine, on Nov. 3, 2023, following a mass shooting on Oct. 25. (Mandel Ngan/AFP via Getty Images)

She said the proposed law would allow a court to address the threat from a truly dangerous person more efficiently.

“Not every person in danger of hurting themselves or others is mentally ill,” she said.

Dr. Paul Cain, president of the Maine Medical Association, agreed. He said doctors who must deal with shooting victims believe that the yellow flag law is insufficient.

“The Yellow Flag Law unnecessarily stigmatizes mental illness,” he said. “[The Red Flag Law] is a well-established approach proven to work in other states.”

The push for the red flag law is in response to the Oct. 25, 2023, mass shooting in Lewiston, Maine, which left 18 people dead and 13 others injured at Schemengees Bar and Grille and the Just-In-Time Recreation bowling alley, both located just four miles apart. The killer was found dead two days later, about 10 miles from the site of the shootings.

He had been treated for mental health problems, including “hearing voices and threats to shoot up the National Guard base in Saco, [Maine],” a police bulletin stated at the time. He was also admitted to an unspecified facility for mental health treatment for two weeks over the summer, authorities said last October.

Jonathan Martell of Sanford called the push for a red flag law a “knee-jerk reaction.” He said the bill contained confusing and subjective language that would illegally deprive people of their property and constitutional rights while doing nothing to keep anyone safe.

He said he has had friends harassed and persecuted by people who made false accusations in court. One of the committee members pointed out that the law requires any complaints to be made in an affidavit.

The proposed law also makes providing false information a crime. Mr. Martell said that doesn’t mean the statement could be trusted.

A Piece of Paper

“How much is someone’s word worth? It’s a piece of paper. Does that mean [the allegation] happened? No,” he said.

Jody West of Benton expressed concern that the proposed law would make it impossible to hold law enforcement agencies accountable for the loss or damage to confiscated firearms. He said agencies that take private property should be responsible for properly caring for that property until it’s returned to its legal owner.

“Why should law enforcement have complete immunity? Why would that be in this bill?” he asked.

Maine’s yellow flag law—the first of its kind—was passed in 2019 to prevent mass shootings.

State Rep. Lisa Keim (R-Dist. 19) told The Epoch Times that the law allows law enforcement to involve mental health professionals in a case without violating a person’s constitutional rights. Ms. Keim noted that under the yellow flag law, all a concerned person must do is call 911.

A Natural Reaction

“It’s based on a natural reaction,” Ms. Keim said.

Under the yellow flag law, a person concerned that someone is dangerous would notify law enforcement. Then, the responding agency would request a mental health evaluation from a medical professional, such as a psychologist, psychiatrist, or doctor, among others. If the person is found to be a danger, they can be restricted from possessing or obtaining firearms.

According to Ms. Keim, this process preserves a person’s constitutional rights throughout. She said the law has one major shortcoming.

“A law that’s not utilized is not effective,” she said.

An interim report from a commission established to investigate the Oct. 25, 2023 shooting agrees.

The Independent Commission to Investigate the Facts of the Tragedy in Lewiston was appointed by Gov. Janet Mills on Nov. 9, 2023. An interim commission report released on March 15 says several entities might have stopped the killer under the yellow flag law, including the U.S. Army, mental health professionals in New York, and the Sagadahoc County Sheriff’s Office.

However, the report lays the responsibility for the deaths and injuries at the killer’s feet.

The interim report also states that the investigation is ongoing, and more information will be released as it becomes available.

“Robert Card Jr. is solely responsible for his own conduct, and he may have committed a mass shooting even if the guns he possessed in September 2023 were removed from his house. Nevertheless, there were several opportunities that, if taken, may have changed the course of events,” the report reads.

Michael Clements is an award-winning Epoch Times reporter covering the Second Amendment and individual rights. Mr. Clements has 30 years of experience in media and has worked for outlets including The Monroe Journal, The Panama City News Herald, The Alexander City Outlook, The Galveston County Daily News, The Texas City Sun, The Daily Court Review,